Meet Shahiyan ‘Shy’ Mason. A gifted, realism artist using vibrant, intense tones to capture soul-stirring, evocative portraits. Explore a conversation citing affirming words from a wise grandmother, the evolution of one’s artistic style, and why the eyes help illustrate the greatest stories.
Tell us about yourself: what’s your story?
My name is Shahiyan Mason, I was born in East and raised in South London. South London is definitely home for me, specifically Brixton. My background is West Indian; Jamaican and Saint Lucian with both Grandparents coming from the Windrush generation. I’m 24 and besides my gifts as an artist, I also do hairstyling and garment construction.
When did you know art was your calling?
I’ve always been drawing and sketching from a young age. Super creative in practice and in theory - a real out-of-the-box thinker. As a 5-year-old, I remember looking up to my oldest sister who, at the time, was taking her art exams, she explained her concept and final piece to me and it was fascinating. That’s definitely when I knew I’d take art as an option in every institution. Primary, secondary, sixth form then branching out to fashion communication and styling at university.
How did you discover your style of work?
It probably started from watching way too many cartoons as a child. I tried making comics/storyboards but quickly realised I hated that. So I moved onto realism. Analysing facial features and origins, outside of art, made me aware that I wanted to create portraits. From there, I experimented mainly by switching mediums and going with what felt like second nature.
Who are your biggest influences?
Those around me, those I love, heartbreak, emotions, and myself; meaning my ability to overcome and keep pushing forward. Artist-wise, Salvador Dalí is incredible, although I believe it’s important to draw inspiration and influences not only from literal art but every part of life and afterlife. I’m obsessed with Erykah Badu and Grace Jones. Two really beautiful, authentic, and daring women. I should also mention that I am inspired by concepts. I’m drawn to the idea of metaphors, synonyms, and storytelling. Digging deep and uncovering meanings as well as allowing my work to act as a reflection - letting people project and unpack themselves.
Tell us about your process: what does it consist of? How do you get into your creative element?
For me to paint I have to be in the right mood - not necessarily a good one but the right one. This could include feeling sad, frustrated, ready for change, or spontaneously inspired. I take a lot of time out between pieces. For my personal projects, I usually start and stop or add a couple of strokes over a 3 month period then the end result appears out of nowhere. I listen to soul music like Kendrick Lamar or Jill Scott on shuffle, paint until I get art block - then return with fresh eyes, and the cycle continues.
What has been the most challenging part of your journey so far?
Believing that my work is actually good and finding a place for me in this industry. If not finding one then making one. I remember sketching a wedding dress at my grandma’s house in the summer - She looked over my shoulder and was amazed at my 8-year-old self and affirmed that I am talented and capable. I often think back to this moment whenever I feel challenged. Life also has a weird way of reminding me of my talents, through people, trauma, dreams, and Deja Vu experiences.
What’s your favourite painting you’ve created? Why?
My favourite paintings are the larger pieces because so much goes into them. I often can’t see the vision until the end result so it’s a practice of me trusting myself. Specifically, my favourite is my most recent self-portrait. I like how I played with the depth and I enjoyed the challenge of hands and hair detailing.
What do the eyes reveal to you in a painting?
I have previously merged and practiced different techniques to find what works best for me but at the moment, I’m mainly using watercolour, layering as if it were oil paint. My attention to detail has developed more as well whereas before it was kind of anything goes. I also started using unconventional sizing and painting on random boards/measurements, whatever I can get my hands on.
What is the role of the artist in today’s society?
The role of the artist takes many forms nowadays - creative direction, styling, hair, makeup, producing, editing, music. Pretty much anyone who has an idea and brings it to life, makes it a reality; something physical and emotional.
What’s the next move? Where would you like to see your work take you next?
My plans are to radiate my skills in every aspect of my life. Letting the world know I’m here. My mind runs on a million so I have many things I want to do in the future, but ideally, the next step will be collaborations. I have a couple coming out that you can look out for.
Head over to Shy’s Instagram to stay connected and watch her artistic journey flourish further.